A Moment of Clarity: The Sobruary Effect

For the past few years I have participated in a tradition that I called Sobruary.  During those 28 (potentially 29) days I would take a break from alcohol and try to find some balance in my life.  I sold it to myself as a way to kill my tolerance, test my resolve, work my way through some issues, kickstart my spring fitness goals, and reassess what really matters to me.  It was a successful event for the past 3 years, but I have gotten to the point where I have outgrown it.  Even though I am not participating in Sobruary this year I still feel the need to write about it as I have done in the past.

Sobruary grew out of need, and was one of the trials that I feel put me on the right path.  During the winter of 2013/14 I was dealing with a lot of personal problems and tragedy and was feeling depressed.  I wasn’t happy with how things were going in my personal life, or at my new job, and how the world was unfolding around me, plus dealing with the loss of some people who I felt close to.  I was also really getting into the world of craft beer and would celebrate that by coming home from work and drinking 5 Heady Toppers by myself in my living room on a work night just because I could.  After going on a vacation where I spent far too much time bouncing between being too drunk to function and too hung over to function I felt the need for a change.  And Sobruary was born.

It was a huge challenge, but it put me on the right path, and I don’t think that it is a coincidence that over the next year I started working out, performing comedy, and writing more consistently.  Sobruary gave me that moment of clarity that many addicts talk about, where they realize what they are doing to themselves and how they can change it.  To be clear I am not an alcoholic, I have no physical or mental dependency, but I do have a bit of a social dependency where I feel much more comfortable with a drink in my hand.  This is in probably due to how I was raised, the people that I surround myself with, and my own personal preferences and social anxieties.  I rarely “need” a drink, but I often “want” a drink, and using a period of abstinence like Sobruary makes it clear that it is a choice, and if allowed me to identify the other choices that I make.

The next two years were actually harder than the first Sobruary.  I had less conviction in the mission.  I knew that it worked and was beneficial, but because I wasn’t in such a dark place personally I didn’t feel that sense of urgency that I had felt the first time.  I was also performing during those years so I was around much more temptation.  I have the utmost respect for the comics I work with who are in recovery, spending night after night in bars surrounded by temptation is a huge challenge when things are going well, but if you are having a bad day or have just bombed it feels impossible.  By this point I was also getting a lot of pushback from some of my friends who didn’t see the point in my social experiment.  If alcohol is a focal point for many of your relationships, it is hard to overcome that when you aren’t drinking.  This really put things in perspective for me about how I reacted and interacted with friends who have entered recovery or tried moving toward a sober lifestyle.  These conflicts gave me some great insights and have helped shape the decision that I made a few weeks ago that I would not be participating in Sobruary.

Right now I my relationship with alcohol is probably the healthiest it has ever been.  I drink, and I drink often, but I very rarely drink to excess.  I have cut down on the obsession about finding the rarest or hardest to find beer and stepped away from the need to “Catch ’em all.”  Drinking is part of the experience, and that experience no longer feels mandatory.  If I feel like having a beer or visiting a brewery I do it, if I don’t then I don’t feel bad about it.  I stopped shipping or “muleing” beer for all but my closest friends, and even then it is not trades, but sharing with people I care about.  I still am on a first name basis with a dozen or so Burlington bartenders, and a few places they know exactly what I am going to order, and it sure is fun to watch them squirm and make the mental switch when I order an herbal tea.

The biggest realization that I had was that I can only remember having one hang over in the past year.  Think about that, 365 days, 5 or 6 alcohol centric vacations, and the one hangover that I can remember is from a day when I went out right after work and hadn’t eaten all day before putting a dozen beers in my face.  The vacations were the biggest test, because they show that I finally found out my limits and figured out when to call it quits instead of pushing on and continue to drink past the point that needed to.  When I was in Gatlinburg last month I was the 2nd person awake both days because I felt tired and knew my limits before going to bed.  There is something to be said about waking up without an alarm refreshed and well rested without a hangover while everybody else was busy riding the struggle bus.  I also finished that trip by taking home only a few beers, not trying to get rare things, but applying an abundance mindset that no beer is the end all and be all. Recently I have even been thinking about quitting Untappd because I don’t feel like it adds much value.  I don’t enjoy pulling myself away from real life to enter things into my phone, or feeling guilty it I forget to do it, or feeling jealousy when my friends are enjoying something that I can’t have.  It isn’t healthy for me and I will probably be taking a break for a bit and deciding if it is something that I want to keep pursuing.

I am far from perfect, and I realize that while I am pretty healthy with my alcohol consumption now things will probably change.  Sobruary was a great way to explore my relationship with alcohol, and exploration of self is one of my favorite things, it even spread to a few other friends and created a bit of a community.  Some time in the future I will most likely get back on that wagon and try Sobruary again, but at this time it isn’t something that I really need.  The important thing is that I have done a fearless and searching moral inventory and found out just what works for me.

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